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This Is Your Federation On Drugs*

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A pity I hadn't read this US Chess Federation press release before bumping into USCF President Beatriz Marinello on Sunday at Kasparov's training session for US juniors.

When most controversy about drug testing in chess is about keeping drugs (and testing) out of the sport, the USCF has gone the other way and is endorsing an event sponsored by the maker of "brain supplements." The event is set for a human chess match on June 11 in Las Vegas. At least it doesn't say the GMs (players to be announced) will be taking the "Natrol BrainSpeed" during the game.

And at least we can be pretty sure it's not a harmful product. Most of these supplements are overpriced, overhyped herbal cocktails that hover around 10% ingredient potency. (E.g. chewing on fresh gingko biloba is one thing, popping a dried capsule of the stuff is another.) You can read the ingredients here. Clubmoss, anyone?

Of course many players already take similar things, not to mention caffeine, energy bars, and power drinks. And as long as it's not harmful, I don't see the problem. Having the USCF endorse it seems a little odd. On the other hand, it's probably healthier than Pepsi.

*This post has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This post is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.


Herbs are still drugs. Some drugs have adverse reactions in combination with herbs. Supplements, including vitamins, that are taken in desperation and excess have a sometimes unknown negative affect on our health. I think it's irresponsible for USCF to advertise these products, even if they are largely inactive or placebo. Nothing works better to improve attention and concentration than a quick nap :)

What is wrong with Pepsi? I know that Himalaian mineral water is healthier, but it is hard to get and Pepsi, Coke and Brazilian Guarana are cheaper and have caffeine, though not enough to keep me awake during a Kramnik game.

If you drink, say, an average of 4-6 cans of Pepsi a day, you'll start to notice strange things happening to you. Gets hard to move chess pieces around, your hands start jiggling so much. Yes, just like coffee! It's true, I've been there. I only drink a Pepsi if I eat out now. And for tournaments? The cool, refreshing taste (taste, ha! It's purified water) of Aquafina!

Hereís a good one. I know a chess playing diabetic. For important games he letís his blood sugar level rise because it gives him energy and helps him think. He says that heís a much better player with high blood sugar. If he kept his blood sugar that high all the time heíd develop serious problems. But he assures me that once and a while itís ok. Should FIDE test for this too?

I think this is appalling! I can't believe the USCF is associating themselves with such a "product."

This is just plain stupid.


please, chess tournaments should accept any kind of sponsorship that is offered, we can't afford to get picky.

Yeah, like third world dictators that won't allow any Jews into a world championship tournament! You should run for FIDE president.

If you sold bottled water as a 'brain supplement' it could be abused by desperate chess players and result in hyponatremia- water intoxication! Quick fixes do not exist. You can make money preying on suckers.

"Hereís a good one. I know a chess playing diabetic. For important games he letís his blood sugar level rise because it gives him energy and helps him think."

That's the opposite effect of drinking high-caffeinated drinks like coffee or Pepsi. It's well known that caffeine causes the pancreas to work overtime and produce excess insulin, which in turn lowers blood sugar levels. That's why if you diet, it is recommended you give up caffeine, since the low blood sugar leaves you feeling hungry.

So which is better for focus and concentration, low or high blood sugar?

I'm surprised no one has thought of abusing Adderall (short or long acting) at tournaments, which is supposed to be great for focus, even for people not diagnosed with ADD. See http://slate.msn.com/id/2118315 for one writer's experience.

Which is better for focus and concentration, low or high blood sugar? This is an important question.

For best performance, best is to have even blood sugar. Too low and your brain gets no energy. Too high and you get over-excited (same with excess caffeine). And no healthy person can keep their blood sugar constantly high, because insulin soon removes the excess glucose from the blood, leaving you feeling low and tired ("the 5th hour slump", known for Tal and many other players).

To play well, you should eat slowly digested carbs before the game, and have a small snack every hour, such as apples or pears. Any sugar drink will give you energy in the short term, but will leave you tired at the crucial stages of the game.

After I found this out, I have no longer lost games after inexplicable collapses in the late middle game.

As for supplements, fish oil capsules are recommended for long term benefit.

I don't know enough about the product to know if its bad, it's difficult to know about supplements. If it was just vitamin C, just as bad? Fish oil Capsules?

You see, I don't think this would be a problem, had it not been for the fact that this supplement has the word "brain" in its name...

There were no comments about the tournament in Drammen beeing sponsored by Smartfish, but maybe that was due to the incomprehensible (and stupid) name "Smartfish Masters".

The problem I'm getting at (in a roundabout way) is: If the product is legal, how do we define what is acceptable? A ethical sponsorship committe? A simple list saying no Sex, drugs, alcohol? Is vitamin C a drug? And if so, can we afford to be that picky?

Funny, I don't recall a groundswell of criticism when a tobacco company sponsored the world championship.

Well, you clearly need some of those brain products if your memory is that bad! I brought up the tobacco aspect several times. It was particularly relevant since various EU countries don't allow advertising or sponsorship from tobacco companies.


But a national federation is quite a different thing from two individuals out to make a buck.

The USCF being in bed with snake-oil salesmen is smarmy beyond belief.

What about the USCF's efforts to promote chess to children? Are kids supposed to think that "Natrol BrainSpeed" (*speed* for crying out loud)is positive and healthy?

Lol, I like the little disclaimer at the bottom.

Why doesn't the USCF just throw all doubts away and hold an event sponsored by the makers of Adderall, or something? Jeez.

Though the direct link is still active, I notice that there aren't any links to it anymore on the USCF website. It's not in their list of press releases either (I don't know if it ever was).

I wrote a nastygram to the new USCF Executive Director Bill Hall (execdir@uschess.org) and he said he would look into it. Maybe they've backed away from this?


Now even the direct link Mig put in the original article is gone.

I guess they completely backed off.

I'd like to know who's idea this was in the first place!


Beatriz Marinello.

I came into direct contact with some attractive, perky reps for the "Brainspeed" product at last weekends National Open in Vegas. I was standing (well, leaning) in the foyer after yet another grueling encounter over the board..when I was approached by a couple enthusiastic girls armed with printed handouts asking me to take some sort of "brainspeed" exam in the skittles room. I glanced in the direction of the room and saw a large banner and display. I had no idea (until now) why these folks were set up at a USCF chess tournament. I responded by saying: "I just finished my 4th game in two days..I can tell you what my brainspeed is...FRIED!!". I headed to the bar for my usual bottled, alcoholic postgame tonic. Sorry...I'm stuck in my ways. I'm not against other folks using these sort of products..but I do wonder if I'll see a Scientology test table perhaps (for example)at my next tournament courtesy of the USCF.

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on June 7, 2005 7:16 AM.

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